American Soldier by Gen Tommy Franks with Malcolm McConnell. ReganBooks/HarperCollins Publishers (http://www.harpercollins.com), 10 East 53d Street, New York, New York 10022, 2004, 608 pages, $27.95 (hardcover).
As the combatant commander in charge of US military operations during one of the most turbulent times in one of the most turbulent parts of the world, Gen Tommy Franks’s autobiography is a fascinating read and an important addition to the collection of military biographies. He commanded US Central Command (USCENTCOM) during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in Iraq. Anyone interested in command and control at the highest strategic and operational levels, the art of planning and executing large-scale military operations, and the relationships between military and political leaders at various levels will appreciate this book.
American Soldier begins in the early 1950s with Tommy Franks growing up in a middle-class family trying to capture “the American dream”—descriptions that captivated this European reviewer. He was commissioned through the Army’s Artillery Officer Candidate School in February 1967 and soon sent to Vietnam where, although wounded, he finished his tour and gained valuable experience. This was the first of four wars he would participate in during his career, which made me realize how much closer war is to the average American than for most West Europeans. It might also explain why the US military is so much more respected at home when compared to the Europeans’ respect for their forces and perhaps why we seldom see books written by European generals.
Franks’s next Cold War assignment took him to Bavaria, Germany, where he commanded troops defending Europe from the Soviet threat and faced issues of low morale, alcohol and drug abuse, inadequate training, and poor equipment maintenance. I was unaware—and to be honest, now find it somewhat scary—that these problems were as serious as Franks describes. Nevertheless, he dealt with them, learning the value of motivated noncommissioned-officer leadership. When a Chinook helicopter accident killed several of General Franks’s artillery- battery officers, it drove home his sense of respon- sibility for the people in his command. This accountability trait complemented his “people-person” approach to commanding troops.
Brig Gen Tommy Franks entered Desert Storm as an assistant division commander for operations and maneuver—an assignment that required him to interact with the press and juggle political and military responsibilities. Although he freely admits mistakes, the reader will also note his ability to learn from experience and seldom make the same mistake twice. Speed, Franks believed, has the same effect as mass, and combining the two reveals the importance of time. That personal perspective helps clarify some of his strategic choices and gives extra attention to information—a factor that might be of even greater importance than time. This is good stuff for those interested in joint-warfare development and details the lessons to be applied when another war occurs.
Franks was appointed commander of USCENTCOM in the summer of 2000. He begins the second part of his book by explaining his area of responsibility (AOR), which he refers to as “a dangerous neighborhood.” The development of the OEF strategy is particularly interesting, and, although he has the Northern Alliance to fight alongside his own forces, there is no guarantee of finding and defeating a hidden enemy in the world’s most primitive battlefield. Victory, he says, has everything to do with effects: effects enabled by the military forces and national and international political leaders. The reviewer doubts that there are any courses to teach senior leaders how to negotiate the challenges at this level, but Franks proved himself very capable.
Franks relates discussions he held to solidify his command—discussions with his subordinate commanders, service chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He told the service chiefs to either trust or replace their three-star component commanders in the AOR. He made clear to his colleagues in Washington that he was in command and that he would not allow his operations to be frustrated by their defense-budget-spawned concerns. He overcame those parochial interests and got the political trust and military jointness he needed. It is remarkable how much the parochial interests in Europe resemble those US problems and impede effective combined operations.
OIF was quite different from OEF, complicated by contingency plans to keep Iraq from setting fire to its oil wells and Turkey’s refusal to be used as a base from which to attack. Franks’s description of the coalition’s high-tech forces during the sandstorm of 22–27 March 2003 revealed airpower capabilities that were missed by the embedded press, which saw only a veil of sand that seemed to bring the war to a halt. The coalition’s B-1s, B-52s, and many of its fighters used weapons guided by the global positioning system to effectively attack the Republican Guard in one of the fiercest air-to-ground attacks in airpower history.
Franks also discusses his strategic-level relationships with and between senior military and political leaders, showing that for military leaders to be effective in reaching political objectives, they must also have political sensitivities and diplomatic skills. I had the pleasure to witness those skills when I heard the general speak at the airpower symposium celebrating the 50th birthday of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF). In the Hall of Knights—the very heart of Dutch democracy—Franks gave a 45-minute speech on the transformation of warfare. He captivated his audience without using notes or PowerPoint slides. He was impressive not only for his powerful personality but also for the warm respect he showed those around him.
Lt Col W. M. Klumper, PhD, RNLAF
The Hague, Netherlands
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